26 September 2023

Night Blue

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Angela O’Keeffe, Transit Lounge, $27.99.

“The paining has a life of its own.” ― Jackson Pollock. That it certainly does; it even resonates in this atypical reincarnation as the narrative is told in the voice of Blue Poles.

Certainly, an innovative idea adopted by Angela O’Keeffe, but we get to learn that while a ‘guide’ tells “my outer history. My inner history I am telling you.”

Powerful, disturbing and poetic, Night Blue is an engrossing approach to revisiting Jackson Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner as artists and people, as well as rearranging our ideas around the cultural legacy of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s purchase of Blue Poles in 1973. Acquired for a record price, the painting generated much controversy and debate.

O’Keeffe’s interest in writing this form of story was triggered after hearing about the price scandal. Angela “never thought of Blue Poles as an object. The painting was alive. It had its own life. That was the starting point. The voice of Blue Poles came easily and was so immediate.”

She brings the artwork to splendid life inviting the reader to journey with the masterpiece from its first home on the floor of an old barn in Long Island, New York, and across the seas to Australia. It is a triumph of her own imagination, and an invitation to our own.

O’Keeffe takes on important themes including the disturbing behaviour of famous artists across history; the dismissal of the Whitlam government by the Governor- General; and the purpose and value of art.

It is also the story of Alyssa, and a contemporary relationship, in which Angela O’Keeffe immerses us in the essential power of art to change our personal lives and, by turns, a nation.

Moving between locations with fluid ease, Night Blue is personal and gentle, yet unpredictably dramatic. It is a splendid study of how art must not be underrated.

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